Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer

Clubhouse

Like our Facebook!

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority

Marketplace

Wilson Trophy Company

Happy Family

Nesquik

Capri Sun

Active Family Project

Active Family Project

Olive Garden

Play Positive Banner

Print Page Share

Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 

 

The Circle of Life

Susan Boyd

"The Circle of Life" resounds as the opening number of "The Lion King," but could equally serve as the chant for most soccer families: "It's the Circle of Life and it moves us all through despair and hope . . ." Whether the circle forms over a year of soccer or during generations of soccer, we all experience the déjà vu of muddy uniforms, goals, wins, losses, and after game traditions. I'm moving through my second generation of soccer, and I find it reassuringly similar to what I already went through with a few surprising twists.

This past weekend I attended my oldest grandson's first soccer game. The weather was overcast, the temperature hovering just above freezing, and the wind howling: perfect Midwest spring soccer conditions!  Keaton's particular soccer program has its U8 boys playing 9 v 9 on a U10 field. The game was played in 12 minute quarters and the kids rotated at the goalkeeper position and through the field positions. His team has ten boys, so each quarter somebody rotated out. All the players have the same uniform: black shorts, black socks, and a reversal jersey with gold on one side and maroon on the other. So, all the fields stretched out in gold and maroon waves.
 
Confusion is the name of the game at this age. First, because of the cold, several boys were wearing jackets over their jerseys. So it was difficult to differentiate between sides. Further confusion ensues since the boys all know each other from school and the neighborhood.  At this age there isn't the killer instinct that allows them to steal the ball from or block a best friend.   Add to this mix the fact that for most of these players this game was the culmination of only a few weeks of practices. While the coaches knew their stuff, the kids were often clueless. They definitely weren't jargon savvy. When Keaton took to his midfield position in the second quarter, the coach tried to indicate his role with the following instruction: "You have a split personality." Keaton looked at him dumbfounded. Staying goal-side also seemed to be beyond their comprehension. Every kid told to stay goal-side ran dutifully to the side of one goal or the other without regard to which one they were defending, while the coach tried in vain to get them back to their original positions at least. The other stumper appeared to be ""marking"" which drew plenty of stunned expressions and no movement. Without a Sharpie, marking seemed impossible. Nevertheless they managed to play a rousing game of soccer filled with all the elements of the game: headers, crosses, overlaps, corner kicks, goal kicks, but mercifully not penalty kicks. In fact there were only two fouls called.           

When Keaton got his chance in goal in the 4th quarter, my daughter muttered, "Oh no." She felt the pressure of his position – the last stance against a score. Her brother is a goalkeeper, and she's amazed that I don't get more worked up. I tell her it gets easier . . . eventually I realized that goals will go in. Otherwise it would be a boring game. But I think I was the same way when Bryce was seven and had his chance in goal. I didn't want him to have to be responsible for a loss. Keaton had a very interesting goalkeeper technique. Whenever he got the ball, he heaved it over his head onto the field like a throw in, which meant it traveled about three yards, or he saw plenty of action in that quarter, but had some good saves.

On the whole the parents were supportive, rather than critical. My daughter told me that the parents had to be part of a "circle of affirmation," not to be confused with the circle of life. They seemed to have learned the lesson well as the only criticism of any sort I heard was from my own husband who when a foul was called turned to my son-in-law and said, "They call that?" Then he quickly corrected himself for not being affirming. This came from a man who rarely says anything critical at a game – he is famous for being positive. I think being cradled in such an upbeat group of parents left him with no alternative but to turn evil!

Despite their positive attitudes, the parents couldn't stop being coaches. Keaton wasn't the only one experiencing a split personality.  These poor kids didn't know which way to turn. They would hear "push up" from their coach and "look out behind you" from their parent; "pass the ball" from the coach and "dribble it" from their dads; "get wide" from the coach and "go to the ball" from their moms.   While the coach is focused on the team, the parents are focused on their child. It's tough to be the recipient of so much conflicting instruction. In frustration, one kid just stopped and put his head in his hands.

At the end of the game, two dozen kids with chapped faces rushed the sidelines to get their treat. I saw absolutely no swagger in the kids who won and no dejection in the kids who lost. Everyone focused on getting their treat and getting into their warm cars. It's too bad it won't stay that way. Eventually winning will matter, losing will feel bad, and body language will play a part in how kids leave the field. But Saturday it was just fun to be outside, fun to play, fun to get a treat, fun to get warmed up, and for about half of them fun to move on to baseball practice. As a side note, I only lasted 40 minutes at baseball practice . . . at that point my idea of fun was a mug of cocoa in a house with central heating.   But I loved experiencing the unspoiled joy emanating from each boy on that field and coming full cycle back to the first moments of the circle of soccer.
 

Dereliction of Duty

Susan Boyd

This spring thaw reveals all my sins of omission from the previous autumn. Now that the deck has shrugged off its winter mantle, the leaves and sticks I never quite got swept up before the first snow fall lie in matted heaps grey and rotting. This pretty much describes my entire environment –grey deck, grey piles of debris, grey skies, grey lawn, grey windows, grey streets, grey attitude. My deck taunts me with its reminder of all the projects I have left undone using winter as an excuse. Or perhaps I should say seven or eight winters as an excuse. My home is so bad that even aluminum siding sales people don't bother with me. 

So this week I began to do something about it. It took me over five years to remove all the pea-green wallpaper off the hallway and stairwell walls (not to mention the ten years it took me to get motivated to begin peeling it off) and another two years before I finally picked the colors and border I wanted as replacements. Next week a painter will come in and bring my vision to life after only fifteen years of gestation. A landscaper will bring order to the flower beds I have tried, in vain, to turn into an English cottage garden, managing up to this point merely cottage cheese.

Winter is a good excuse, especially in Wisconsin, but my real excuse for this procrastination is soccer. Over the past thirteen years I can count on one hand the number of full weekends I have had totally free of soccer, and I can count on my hands and feet the number of weekends where I had just one of the days free of soccer. Whenever I drive into a new town and travel down the boulevards and lanes of that borough, I can quickly spot the homes where families with kids in sports dwell. The good intentions are evident, but the follow through doesn't exist.

These houses have a rake lying mid-stroke on the lawn, half of their shutters painted, and plants in their plastic containers lined up alongside a garden bed. I don't think I have actually planted geraniums in over a decade. I just throw them into my window boxes in their plastic containers – otherwise there wouldn't be a spot of color in my entire yard. These otherwise handsome homes exhibit a barrenness of orderliness and polish. The fallen tree branches of last autumn join the fallen tree branches of spring to create a thatched barrier stretching from one end of the lawn to the other. I gather mine as needed to start fires in the outdoor fire pit – once I get that cleaned up and dried out. The derelict look of these homes belies the joy that exists inside.

While I look forward to my soccer "retirement" so I can actually spend my weekends doing what home dwellers should do, I also know it spells the end of a wonderful era. All those days sitting in rain, snow, sleet, and sun cheering on my kids, all those road trips, all those loads of laundry, all those abandoned cleats littering my garage, all those water bottles rolling around the back seat, all those smelly socks pushed up against the heating vents in the car, all those soccer balls escaping out of the back hatch and rolling half a mile away, all of those things will just be memories.   While I often wish my home looked like something out of Architectural Digest and less like a "before" photo, I realize that every neglected flower bed, every untrimmed edge, every unwashed window means some soccer memory completed. I go to bed at night with visions of Home and Garden TV dancing in my head and the fervent prayer that home improvement elves will visit me, which seems the only hope I'll ever get my projects completed. 

So add painters, landscapers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians to the hidden costs of having kids who play soccer. I got the estimate for my spring projects yesterday and realized that I need a second and third job. Maybe I'll paint other people's houses. In the meantime I am headed to Columbus, Ohio this weekend for my grandson Keaton's first soccer game and baseball practice. "Retirement" won't be happening soon.
 

Who can you really look to for advice?

Susan Boyd

My husband told me yesterday that Sally Fields is going to address the Scientific Assembly of the American Academy of Family Physicians this coming September. Her topic will be osteoporosis. My husband was second author on a three year cognitive psychology study of infant and toddler development. He and the primary author submitted their paper on their findings which weren't monumental but definitely questioned some of the leading authorities on how children develop their cognitive skills such as speech. The idea was to create a kit that pediatricians and family doctors could use to administer tests to better assess a child's developmental growth. Their paper was rejected – twice. But now Sally Fields of "you like me . . . you really, really like me!" fame and star of those Boniva bone strengthening pill commercials apparently has gained enough expertise on osteoporosis and its prevention to be able to address a Scientific Assembly on the topic.
           
Who do we trust to guide us through our tangled lives? Rather than go through months, even years of detailed psychological counseling we look to Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura to give us a sound-bite band-aids.   CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is a neurosurgeon and NBC's medical correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, is an otolaryngologist, yet they give advice on the entire spectrum of medical issues. This would be like going to an OB-GYN to have your prostate checked! The influx of media supported "experts" receives instant validation just because they are on the TV or the radio. Even Lynn Spears, the mother of Britney and Jamie, wrote a parenting book which blessedly has been put in hibernation by the publisher.   But I really felt we achieved a new low with an actor giving a medical speech. ""I'm not a doctor, but I play one at medical conventions.""
           
The same concerns come with sports and who we can trust to give us good advice about our kids. What about the parents who are told by coaches that their nine year old child has the ability to make the national team, so they should hand him or her over to a particular club for training? Who can give them an honest assessment? If a player is good, every coach will attest that his or her club offers the best chance for development. How can parents tell if the assessment is sincere or is made because the team is missing a defender for next year and as soon as a stronger defender shows up, their child will be unceremoniously dumped? It happens every year to thousands of players across the country. Not exactly the type of self-esteem boost families seek for their children.  
           
How do parents know which position their child should play? A coach needing a goal keeper will seek out and convince the most likely candidate on the team even if the player has great potential as a field player. On Robbie's club team half the players are former midfielders and still play midfield on their high school teams. But with a surplus of excellent players who also happen to be midfielders, they got shuttled around to other positions. Robbie never played forward until he got to his present club team where he got told he was a great forward. Now college coaches are talking about him as a midfielder. Who knows? I certainly don't have the expertise to figure it out, and if you ask Robbie, he says he'd rather play midfield.
           
Clubs have turned to a fairly rigorous training schedule. Who can really offer the best expertise on a training regimen and how it affects various age levels? Fitness, team tactics, skills, nutrition, and quantity, regularity and intensity of sessions share importance. What's the best mix? Add to this the on-going argument about specialization vs. playing a wide range of sports. The former is blamed for repetition injuries and body stresses while the latter is blamed for players becoming jacks of all trades and masters of none. When is the right time to shift to a concentration on one or two sports? Experts disagree and lay people manage to weigh in with even more opinions. Ask a coach and an orthopedist what the best training regimen is and you'll get some differing opinions. Then ask a sports trainer who'll confuse the issue even further. Finally ask a child psychologist and hear another approach. Each one has important authority on the topic, but each one also has a differing point of view based on what each sees as the benefits and the detriments of particular choices.

I'm facing a quandary right now without an expert in sight. Robbie is receiving emails, letters, and brochures about dozens of college camps across the country. Every letter touts how players are selected from the camps to be on D1 college teams and coaches exert anywhere from moderate to strong pressure to attend their camps. These cost $450 to $650 not including transportation to and from the events. There is also the veiled message that should you forgo a camp you are risking not being recruited for that school. What's a parent to do? First off the letters are sent to a significant group of players because the schools need to fill the camps to make them financially viable. Therefore you can't assume because you got a letter that you are one of the top picks for that school. You can definitely assume that the coaches either saw you play somewhere or heard of you from someone credible or you were on a list such as Olympic Development Program state team or on a competitive team or your name was on a mailing list they purchased. Elite camps for most schools are listed right on their athletic websites, so even if you didn't get an invite, you can still sign up. That takes some of the bloom off the rose. But I have to admit to feeling the same pressure to figure out which camps if any Robbie should attend. And the only experts are the same college coaches who are soliciting his attendance.
           
What I have finally decided in all this mess is to depend upon my own children to let me know what's best. Kids usually have a better finger on the pulse of their coach's intentions or their team's dynamics, so I trust them to figure out where they want to be and why. If they want to play three or four sports, so long as they aren't sacrificing one team's schedule and cohesiveness to serve another team's needs – in other words he or she is meeting all team commitments – then let the kids decide when they want to or if they want to specialize. The rule in our house was only one sport per season, but that was a mom rule because of scheduling and car-pooling. If a child is grunting when sitting down, he or she is either seventy years old or is training too hard or incorrectly. No child should need an ice bag every night and be popping ibuprofen regularly. Robbie picked his camps on the basis of location, school, and how much they would eat into his summer fun time. If he misses a camp that costs him recruitment, then so be it. There was no perfect answer anyway. 
           
However, if you really need some answers, I suggest writing to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. He played the coach in "Bend it Like Beckham." If Sally Fields can lecture on osteoporosis on the basis of acting in Boniva commercials, then it logically follows that Jonathan seems the right resource for questions on soccer development. After all he was actually in the movie – Beckham was played by a stand-in so what would Beckham know?
 

The Good, The Bad and The Foul

Susan Boyd

A recent movie release, "Mr. Woodcock" starring Billy Bob Thornton told the story of a boy's elementary school coach returning years later to woo and marry the now grown student's mother. Woodcock was a coach from you know where and the beleaguered student experienced every stereotypical horror from the dreaded rope climb to dodge ball. Now he gets to relive the misery. While the movie wasn't a masterpiece it did illustrate the affect a coach can have on the development and psyche of a player. 

Coaches can be volunteers, part-time professionals, or full-time professionals. Most players are taught first by volunteer coaches who can range in knowledge from learning that soccer balls are round to former professional players helping out with their kids. It used to be that volunteer coaches were a largely unsupervised cadre of men and women which resulted in the early years of soccer being hit or miss on the development level. Now coaches are asked to get a coaching license, which certainly helps increase both the quality and the consistency of youth soccer.

Parents should make sure their child's coach is licensed. The main purpose of licensing for volunteer beginner coaches and an important purpose for veteran coaches is to insure that they go through a background check. No coach can be licensed without the check and more and more soccer organizations are requiring that all coaches be licensed.

The second purpose of licensing for all coaches is to insure some consistency in how kids are coached. Every year changes in the structure of the game at the youth level crop up, so licensing helps coaches stay current with rules and requirements. Under-8 soccer for most states has moved to 4 v 4, with Under-10, Under-11, and Under-12 soccer seeing similar changes in the number of players on the field. In addition, field, goal and ball size are dictated by the new organization of the age groups. Coaches need to be sure that they are coaching both for and to the right level. A seven-year-old player is lucky if she can manage a dribble cross field. Learning complicated step-overs wouldn't be appropriate.

Coaches need to understand their role as teachers. Therefore, coaches should be free with the praise and minimal with the criticism especially at the younger ages. They also need to understand age appropriateness. Walking across a field once I heard a coach screaming four letter expletives at his team. I looked over to see a group of six or seven year old boys, wide-eyed and near tears. In many clubs, coaches will be called upon to cover teams from Under-8 up to Under-17, so they need to be sure to adjust their coaching methods to the age.

Parents should ask to see a coach's pass to reassure themselves that a background check has been done. The pass should indicate the expiration date of the pass and the license level the coach has achieved. Coaches can be licensed as G, E, D, C, B, or A with a national level possible for D – A. Most volunteer coaches will have a G or an E license. E licensed coaches usually selected that level because they wanted to coach older as well as younger players and want to move up the licensing ladder. G coaching clinics are held regularly in most states and can be located on the state's Youth Soccer Association website.  Parents should expect their child's coach to be licensed and for their child's soccer organization or club to require licensing.

Parents should definitely attend practices, also. Clubs need to remember that they are providing a service for which they are paid. Parents have the right to be sure that they are getting their money's worth. On the same page, parents shouldn't interfere with practices. That includes forcing their child to practice when he or she doesn't want to.   Sometimes it's just too much and kids need to slide into the experience slowly—my youngest son was that way. All he really wanted to do was talk to his friends and watch the ball get kicked around. It took him about three weeks to finally decide to fully participate. Now I can't get him off the field! No coach should have to deal with any player who doesn't want to be there. So have some mercy on both the child and the coach. Watch the practices to see if the coaching style fits your child, if the coach works well with all levels of players on the field (does she ignore the weaker players in favor of coaching the stronger ones?), and if the team respects the coach.

If a coach seems to be out of hand – yelling, swearing, driving the kids, belittling them – parents absolutely have the right and even the responsibility to approach someone from the administrative staff about that coach. A difficulty arises at the older ages when kids have to try out for a team. Parents are uneasy about "rattling the cage" when it comes to a coach. And I have seen vindictiveness played out for parents who dared to question a coach's demeanor. I think it is important to separate out coaching knowledge from coaching behavior.

I don't think most parents are in a position to question a coach's decision about playing time, position, formation, practice drills, and the like. However, I do think that parents have the right to question how a coach behaves on the field and in practice, just as parents have that right with teachers or health professionals. If behavior becomes abusive or coarse, then administrators need to refrain from a defensive posture and listen. Standards of behavior should be required and maintained by soccer organizations. Nevertheless it is a difficult subject since many clubs basically pull the wagons in a circle around the coach and don't address his or her behavior. Instead they attack the parent or player for questioning the coach's demeanor.

Finding the right coach and the right team for a child takes some effort. The right team may not be the one that all of his or her friends are on. It's hard to resist the popularity or the car-pool convenience factor of a team, but if a child isn't happy, it won't matter how popular or convenient a team turns out to be. Don't be afraid to visit some soccer teams in your area to observe prior to placing your child on a team. Parents do the same for school, so it makes sense to do it for after-school as well. Don't be afraid to talk to the coaches and to other parents to see what philosophies, demands and expectations exist. Do they all mesh with yours?

In end, if you make a selection and it isn't working, there's nothing wrong with fulfilling the season commitment and then moving on. It's a rare soccer team that retains more than 30 percent of the players throughout the lifetime of the team. Few players will move on to high school and college playing. Therefore, the years in youth soccer should be above all, fun and filled with happy memories.  Parents shouldn't let the seduction of higher level soccer convince them to leave their child on a team where the coach is abusive and the atmosphere is miserable. If you can't change it, then move on to a place where people smile and say "good job."